Acarian Systems Alón Circe loudspeaker Bob Reina, September 2004
I was very impressed with the Mk.II update of my reference Alón by Acarian Systems Circe loudspeaker (Stereophile, October 2001, Vol.24 No.10). Compared with the original Circe, reviewed by Wes Phillips in Vol.22 No.5 and Jonathan Scull in Vol.23 No.4, the Mk.II ($12,000/pair) featured a more rigid cabinet and a lower-distortion woofer. Although I have not been a fan of all of Carl Marchisotto's designs over the years, the Circe Mk.II gave me everything I was looking for in a reference speaker: overall low coloration; a rich, warm midrange; excellent dynamic and transient articulation, especially at the frequency extremes; and a character that blended well with a wide range of equipment, rooms, and musical genres.
Marchisotto has always believed in trickling down his design innovations from the top to the bottom of his speaker lines. In December 2003 I reviewed the Mk.II iteration of his Alón Li'l Rascal ($600/pair), which boasts some of the same proprietary crossover technology developed for the Exotica Grand Reference flagship speaker ($120,000/pair), though at the time, Marchisotto was reluctant to discuss any aspect of his innovative crossover approach. He also incorporated these innovations into the crossover of the Circe Mk.II to create a Mk.III version (effective May 2003, all Circes of serial number 0200 and higher). I sent my crossovers back to Alón for an update. (The update is available to all owners of Circe Mk.IIs for $800/pair. For upgrading the Circe Mk.I to Mk.III status, contact Carl Marchisotto, footnote 1.)
Marchisotto also declined to discuss the proprietary crossover technology in the Nóla Circe Mk.III: "I don't gotta show no leg or underwear." However, I do know that, in addition to the new crossover topology, the Circe Mk.III includes upgrades of a number of passive components. I listened extensively to my Mk.IIs before the upgrade, then played the identical program material one week later, after the upgrade to Mk.III had been completed. The sonic improvements were immediately noticeable.
The Circe Mk.III upgrade turned the knob up another notch or two on the Mk.II's strengths. First, the transient articulation across the frequency spectrum was significantly faster but not sharper. The low-level articulations of pianissimo transients were more delicate but not more soft. Increased speed without mechanical artifacts resulted in a speaker with a more natural and convincing sonic envelope over a wide range of recordings.
The Circe Mk.III also resolved greater detail and room ambience than the Mk.II. I could hear deeper into recording mixes and follow individual instruments more clearly. This was most noticeable on the long, realistic decay envelopes of acoustic instruments in classical and jazz recordings.
Marchisotto has taken the Circe Mk.II's greatest strength, dynamics, and improved it still further. At the lowest and highest levels, I noticed much finer gradations of subtle dynamic articulations with all well-recorded material; the Circe Mk.III breathed organically, as live music does.
Fans of percussion, piano, and strings—even solo strings—should love the Circe Mk.III. On Dean Peer's Ucross (CD, Jazz Planet JP5002), Peer's solo electric bass created rumbling yet subtle waves of bass with lengthy, realistic decays. The speaker was at its best, however, with orchestral music. Stravinsky's Firebird (LP, Mercury Living Presence/Classic SR 90226) revealed subtle orchestral details—tutti pizzicato string passages popped out of thin air, and xylophones were more noticeable while being more subtle and laid-back. I felt closer to the music, and further away from any semblance of electronic artifacts.
On the fortissimo side, bass-drum thwacks were deeper and more dramatic. On Messiaen's Turangalîla Symphony (LP, EMI SLS 5117), I could hear deeper into the score as the Circe Mk.III improved the low-level intelligibility of the most densely orchestrated passages. I could follow individual cymbals and heard longer decays on piano and percussion, as well as melodic motives I hadn't noticed before.
The Circe Mk.III was also a great rock speaker. Sade's voice on Love Deluxe (CD, Epic EK 53178) seemed richer and more delicate than through the Mk.II, and even the electronic drum programming was more tuneful. I could more clearly discern the filter-envelope programming on the bass synthesizer.
I felt that the $12,000/pair Circe Mk.II presented a superb value as an all-around speaker that could cater to a wide variety of musical tastes and equipment setups. The Circe Mk.III is a noticeable improvement, and the $800 upgrade charge is a bargain. I urge all owners of the Circe Mk.II to send in their checks right away.—Robert J. Reina
Footnote 1: In 2004, Carl and Marilyn Marchisotto separated from their partners in the original Acarian Systems, Ltd., to form a new company, Accent Speaker Technology Ltd., with a new line of speakers called Nóla (which is "Alón" backwards). Marchisotto's current speaker designs will continue to be manufactured by Accent Speaker Technology under the Nóla name. Accent Speaker Technology, Ltd., Hunters Run, Suite 104, 181 Smithtown Blvd., Nesconset, NY 11767. Tel: (631) 265-9577. Fax: (631) 265-9560. Web: www.nolaspeakers.com.—Robert J. Reina